Bell featured its 360 Invictus and its V280 Valor on display today at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exhibition. Both helicopters are competing for US Army contracts to replace the current Apache and Blackhawk, respectively. DSJ had a chance to speak with some of the team members at Bell and get an inside look into what makes their new aircraft competitive.
The Bell V280 Valor is designed to take over operational functionality from the current Blackhawk helicopter. The V280 has twelve seats, meant to accommodate a traditional infantry squad of nine plus any auxiliary attachments the squad may have. The Valor also boasts of high speeds and “can deliver 12 [assault] soldiers better than two hundred fifty, three hundred miles in less than an hour,” says Carl Coffman, Bell’s Director for Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, which is “twice as far, twice as fast” as current aircraft.
An issue brought up by DSJ staff was the transition of the Valor from non-tilt rotor systems to tilt rotor aircraft: the conventional army trains its soldiers in non-tilt rotor while the Valor uses a tilt rotor system. Coffman countered by saying the skills learned are transferable and “you fly it like a helicopter when you’re in your vertical lift mode and when you’re in cruise mode you’re flying it like an airplane.”
In terms of survivability, Bell has placed its engines on either end of the wings with the rotors turning outwards and infrared suppressors on both engines. Coffman claims this is to spread out the heat signature instead of having all of the main parts situated above the soldiers. This lowers the chance of the aircraft being detected, but in the case of detection and contact, the majority of the moving and highly combustible parts of the aircraft are away from the main passenger bay to maximize chances of survivability in case of a crash landing. The Valor can also fly for a short distance and land with only one operational engine.
Bell has also partnered with AreaI to include that company’s ALTIUS (Air-Launched, Tube Integrated Unmanned System) into the Valor. This drone can be deployed from the Valor and can conduct a variety of missions due to its adaptable common launch tube capability. “Basically it falls off the back of the aircraft, the wings fold out…and it takes flight, so I can put an ISR sensor on it, I can put a warhead on it, I can do a variety of things with it,” says Coffman. A spokesperson from AreaI says the ALTIUS has a range of “several hours” depending on the weight of the configuration.